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When Kids Don't Care: Battling Student Apathy

Annie Condron

What can a teacher do if students just don’t care?When Kids Don't Care: Battling Student Apathy


This question is one that plagues every teacher, as has becomes clear through my own teaching experience and almost every conversation I’ve had with teachers.


A recent string of blog posts capture the frustration facing dedicated, caring teachers:


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“Last week, for the first time in my 'career', I walked out of the classroom because I didn't see a point in teaching that class anymore, and ended up crying in the principal's office. It felt like a capitulation and a failure. Like admitting that I didn't manage what I had longed for so much: to be able to teach a regular lesson in a class full of special ed. students, occupied only with their a) phones b) iPods c) make-up, a class without a) books b) pens c) notebooks, and to top it off a class with an amount of chutzpeh, for which I can't find sufficient words to describe it.”

~ FrumTeacher, The Deplorable State of Education


I am “tired of reading stories of teachers being blamed for child’s failure. I really am SICK of it. An open invitation into my classroom to experience:  student apathy & poor parental involvement. I teach EVERYDAY. EVERY STINKING DAY. I’m inventive, but children failing a state exam is NOT solely the teacher’s fault....

 All of the [school and administrations] changes are focus on ME, the teacher. So little of it is focused on what is going on at home.  Or focused on student responsibility. Why are students not held accountable for their part in all of this? It is all teacher-based.”  

~ Miss Teach A, Part 1: Do You Want Me to Teach Your Child or Raise Him?


“Half my students will not have a writing utensil on any given day.


They don’t study, rarely do homework, leave projects unfinished, pay little attention to the lesson and wonder why they’re getting a failing grade. They demand “review” sessions where the teacher tells them everything that’ll be on the test. (not happening in my room. I refuse.) Their behavior is horrible.”

~ A Phillie Teacher, Buy In


The Challenge of Student Apathy

All of these comments share a common message - not that students can’t do better or that they don’t deserve invested, talented teachers, but that EVERYONE involved need to EXPECT students to put forth effort to succeed.


We all know that it’s never as simple as students just “don’t care.”


Some students are afraid to fail, have troubled home lives, experience peer pressure, have realized that they can get by without working hard, or one of the other hundreds of reasons why students don’t try in school.


The question is: how do we find out what leads to student apathy and what do we do to fix it?

In Wounded by Schools, Kristin Olson shares the results of a study of 100 of students “on the margin.” She shares some advice for teachers on how to respond to students who have withdrawn from education after negative experiences:


“Hold your child or your student to very high standards because you believe it is possible for them to grow into it. My interviewers said that it was that teacher who believed they could do so much more than they thought possible of themselves who really began to change the way they saw the world and their own place in it. Having someone in your life who holds you to high standards and believes you can achieve is so critical. Teachers need to do that full interview


I agree that high expectations are crucial to increasing student responsibility and ultimately, achievement.  


What other approaches are there to battling student apathy? Share your approach in the comments section!


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